While waste is widely acknowledged as a part of defense spending, it is very hard to measure the exact amount of waste, as it is very hard to know exactly what the Department of Defense (DoD) is spending and where. This inability to track spending is a larger part of the acquisitions problem. The DoD could not pinpoint where large portions of the cost overruns for the Ford-class Aircraft Carrier went. However, recent news has highlighted the DoD’s inability to keep track of more than just its money. While a financial audit–as some of have suggested–would be useful, it is increasingly clear that the Pentagon must undertake a serious technological and strategic audit as well.

As I wrote previously, issues with the F-35 are not just cost-based or innate to the airplane, but also the realization that the air force did not have pilots with the requisite skills to fly the plane in the type of combat for which it was designed. This is not the only technological-strategic disconnect that has been discovered recently. Breaking Defense wrote recently that while the DoD has been worrying over rivals increasing electromagnetic warfare (EW) capabilities, it turns out that the U.S. already has world-beating EW technology – but it does not have a proper strategy for it. This problem arose from attaching new technology to old platforms, operations plans, and strategies. The technology is there, but the relevant training and operational structures are not.

What other possible assets does the Pentagon have that are buried, mislaid, or misused? Was the EW issue one of a loss in translation between industry, or a more worrying case of the left hand not knowing what the right hand doeth? The question at stake is not merely military spending, but how that spending connects with global strategy, technological development, and how Congress oversees the DoD. The GOP presidential campaign has heavily–and quite misleadingly–focused on the relative might of the U.S. military compared to other countries and the risks of inferiority. This focus, however, ignores the threats that come out of the Pentagon’s inability to know what it has, and what it wants to do with what it has. Even if we assume that the F-35 has all of the capabilities needed to perform a valuable mission, what is its use if we have not been training the pilots to fly it properly. How did we design EW systems that we don’t completely understand?

Understanding the Pentagon’s spending behavior is important – for efficiency and the health of the DoD overall. However, without better understanding what we already have, or understanding how to use what we already have, financial audits by themselves will be ineffective. Waste exists in part because the Pentagon’s strategy is uncoupled from their acquisitions, and vice versa. Reattaching these two aspects of defense policy will help in the mission to reduce financial waste.